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April 5, 2014 | 9:36 a.m. CST
A fleet-footed and unusually thoughtful entry into the Marvel Comic Universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier manages to remain both gritty action flick and frothy entertainment.
After the events of The Avengers, Cap (Chris Evans) has elected to remain with S.H.I.E.L.D. in Washington D.C. When a routine hostage rescue on a cargo ship reveals larger implications involving national security and his boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked in a daytime ambush by mysterious assassin the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the Captain must navigate the moral greyness that is 21st century America.Related Movie
This film marks the greatest stylistic changeup in a Marvel film since the Captain’s last solo entry, 2011’s The First Avenger. That film established Captain America’s persona with rah-rah WWII patriotism and a sense of matinee giddiness; Winter Soldier is (by Marvel standards) melancholy and deliberate. Captain America’s straight man role in the Avengers lineup and his basic decency make him a perfect foil for the shadowy motives and “trust no one” ethos of his latest solo plot.
In contrast to the ’40s vibe of The First Avenger, the mood for this entry evokes a ’70s thriller. Especially in its first hour, The Winter Soldier has an edge of paranoia and menace totally foreign to the franchise. There’s even a knowing long take of Cap waiting for an elevator while the camera lingers on the Watergate Hotel in the window.
Although this approach is more of a stylistic feint and hardly the tone of the entire film, it’s an effective approach to make Captain America appealing and relevant. His Boy Scout ideals are questioned, strengthened and eventually deepened throughout. It also helps that Evans is an immensely appealing screen presence, and his Cap is soulful and pensive.
As with most Marvel films, the momentum fades in the climax as the down-to-earth action and characters are run through a large CGI setpiece. And, as ever, there’s too much emphasis on the broader Marvel universe to make this a truly standalone entry. But The Winter Soldier is thoughtful, relevant and still compulsively entertaining.